Photo © SkySports
It's been a tough week to be a Manchester United fan - first a loss in the Champions League Final to a magnificent Barcelona team, and then Paul Scholes calls time on his career. Unquestionably, the team will take longer to recover from the latter than the former.
I don't typically indulge myself in football commentary on here, but Scholes is a special case. No player of the past twenty-five years has given me more pleasure. Furthermore, Scholes is almost unique in contemporary sports in his attitude towards his work. Here is an athlete who ignored personal accolades, actively disdained media attention, indeed, one who never even had an agent, choosing instead to negotiate his own contracts. There is a Paul Scholes t-shirt that you can buy in Manchester that accurately conveys his philosophy: 'Get up. Go to work. Play the game. Get Showered. Go Home.'
Unlike, say, David Beckham, Scholes's idea of a public appearance is sitting in the stands of his local, low-tier club Oldham Athletic, watching the game with his kids - anonymously, if possible. Invariably, having won a 'Man of the Match' award on TV, he would send a team-mate to accept the award and conduct the mandatory post-game interview - 'He's already in his car, on his way home,' Rio Ferdinand said on one occasion.
Scholes was born in Salford, not far from United's Old Trafford stadium. By any stretch, he's a working class hero. Still, for all the rare contrary delights of his nature, it is the artistry of his football which brought such joy. He scored 150 goals for United, at least a couple of which are widely considered amongst the best four or five goals of the Premier League era. But beyond the goals, he possessed extraordinary vision on a football field, allied to a glorious ability to pass the ball. Scholes has consistently made passes during a game that brought more joy and wonder than the goals that may ultimately have earned a victory. Xavi and Iniesta who play similar positions in the all-conquering Barcelona team, both rate him as their closest peer. At 36 though, Scholes is calling it quits, bowing out before time conquers his game. He made his announcement simply, through the club, without the fanfare of a press conference: 'I'm not a man of many words, but I can honestly say that playing football is all I've ever wanted to do.'
How it showed. Scholes always let his football do the talking. In doing so, he spoke beautifully.
Technical brilliance - vs Aston Villa
Winning goal vs Barcelona, Champions League semi-final 2008